What is Plant Breeding & Genetics?
Plant breeding is human selection of plant populations and began around 10,000 years ago. Plant breeders make crosses of their most promising lines, test as many offspring as possible and select the best to plant for the next generation. In the past 150 years the laws of inheritance and principles of genetics have been discovered and incorporated into the modern breeding process. Within species varieties differ in DNA sequence and phenotype. In agriculture, this is basis of the heritable variation that humans have exploited for the past 10,000 years of breeding.
Modern Plant Breeding & Genetics
By combining molecular biology and statistical genetics, modern breeders and geneticists are able to more effectively identify and select desirable genotypes in breeding populations. The recent ability to compare a superior variety to a less improved variety and understand the genomic basis of that difference in yield can greatly increase the efficiency of the breeding process. The process starts with the identification of molecular markers which are statistically associated with important traits such as disease and insect resistance or grain quality traits. These markers are then used to analyze DNA collected from seedlings of new breeding populations and select those that carry the trait. The advantage of this approach is that it can be performed cheaper and more accurately than traditional phenotypic analyses. The fundamental breeding process of cross pollination among desirable breeding lines has not changed. The paradigm shift is in the ability to rapidly and accurately select the most desirable genotypes. NWG is focusing on the same goals for improving the value of hemp as a viable cropping option in today’s agricultural system.
What is the difference between a “variety” or “cultivar” and a strain?
In botanical terms, all three are generally defined as a group of offspring descended from a common ancestor which share common morphological and/or physiological characteristics. In cannabis, there is an unofficial distinction.
A cannabis strain can be defined as a group of plants created asexually through clonal propagation. This is the most common form of plant production in the marijuana industry. Clones, by definition, are nearly identical genetically with the exception of the random mutations during plant cell division in the development of the “mother plant” (the plant from which a population of clones is generated). Mutations are almost always deleterious. A single mother plant creates a finite number of progeny so the maintenance of a strain requires cloning from the progeny of the original mother. Mutations accumulate with each successive generation so that, eventually, clone quality (e.g. cannabinoid profile.) deteriorates to the point that the strain is abandoned. The cannabis community often refers to this mutational load as genetic drift but this is a misnomer.
A cannabis variety (or cultivar) can be defined as a group of plants created sexually through propagation of seed. The seed of selected plants (those expressing the characteristic of interest) are used for planting the following generation. Mutations undoubtedly occur during sexual reproduction but they only impact a single individual which can be removed from the population by the breeder. As soon as an individual carrying a mutation is used as a mother plant, all derived progeny will inherit the mutation.
Don’t plant varieties perform differently depending on where they are grown?
Yes, it’s true! However, the best seed is well bred for adaptation to your specific region and climate. Though major traits will remain stable, variety performance will vary slightly within a region. Importantly, cannabinoid content will not have significant variances. Rely’s© THC content varied minimally across the landscape of Colorado. Every plant stayed well below 0.2% THC in every location regardless of altitude, rainfall,or other regional growing conditions. making them all well below the legal 0.3% limit.
Is NWG creating GMO hemp?
No, NWG does not perform genetic engineering on any of our varieties. NWG uses traditional plant breeding techniques to create varieties adapted to production in the United States.We incorporate modern sequencing technology and statistical genetics methods to accelerate the development process. This approach allows us to make more informed decisions, thus minimizing the time to market for improved varieties. Ultimately, all stakeholders in the supply chain benefit from higher yielding hemp carrying value-added traits (e.g. high CBD flower).